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Native Pathways to Education
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(Abstract of Dissertation)
Thomas R. Hopkins

THE RECOMMENDATION has often been made that Indian teachers should be developed and employed in American Indian education. Yet there has been no systematic research to probe what is meant by such a recommendation. The basic purpose of this study was to describe the characteristics of Navajo and non-Navajo teachers and to determine their similarities and differences. Four hypotheses were developed for purposes of analyzing the data:

Hypothesis A: Navajo teachers of Navajo children will have characteristics of family background and language that are similar to those of the children and different from those of non-Navajo teachers.

Hypothesis B: Navajo teachers will have perceptions of Navajo children that are different from those held by non-Navajo teachers, as measured by an adjective check-list.

Hypothesis C: Navajo teachers will perceive Navajo children to be more likable; have more scholastic potential; and possess more and different behavioral characteristics than non- Navajo teachers, as measured by clusters of an adjective check-list to form the concepts of Likable, Unlikable, Scholastic Stereotype, and Sensitivity. Hypothesis D: Navajo teachers of Navajo children will express educational objectives that are different from those expressed by non-Navajo teachers.

Sixty-five Navajo teachers of Navajo children and a sample of 100 teachers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs personnel including Negro, White, Oriental, and other American Indian tribes were mailed a questionnaire in the spring of 1970. Forty-two Navajo and 83 non-Navajo teachers responded. The questionnaire was adapted from previous studies of Indian teachers and from graduates of colleges and universities in the United States. The instrument had two parts: (1) items which produced data on the backgrounds of the teachers, including formal education and home styles, and (2) an adjective check-list that would give general perceptions of the Navajo child and four other concepts considered pertinent to the teaching process.

The background data of the two groups were significantly different except in areas pertaining to formal education and preparation for teaching. The study indicated that Navajo teachers started life as typical Navajos and were transformed, through education, to atypical individuals. There were no significant differences between the two groups regarding their major perceptions of the Navajo child as measured by the adjective check-list, nor in their selected educational objectives for the child. There were significant differences regarding the Navajo child, concerning likeability, scholastic potential, and teacher sensitivity to the child. Navajo teachers found the child to be more likable, to have more scholastic potential, and were more sensitive to the child. Neither group found the child to be especially unlikable. Hypotheses A and C were confirmed while Hypotheses B and D were not.

The study concluded that while there were significant differences between the two groups of teachers, there were enough similarities to form a basis for teamwork on behalf of Navajo children. Navajo teachers have some decided advantages regarding understanding the child, but may also have some disadvantages for the same reasons. Non-Navajo teachers may not understand the child as readily as the Navajo, but they possess strengths in understanding the importance and operation of formal education. Recommendations concerning operational procedures in Navajo schools and future research were made with the intent of achieving a blending of the two strengths.

Note: This doctoral dissertation was completed in 1971 at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
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Last modified March 12, 2008